Ever since my teens, christmas has felt like a time when I have to divide myself into equal parts in order to give a fair share to each bit of family who has a claim on me. Feeling wrung out by January seems to be part of the christmas tradition, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. In October this year, my mother tried to book me for christmas 2014, which means I know we’ll be with Pete’s mum for christmas 2015 and can see these milestones looming ahead for pretty much the rest of my life. Basically, I claim that Yule is all about the family, but grumble if it isn’t done my way. I’m just hard work, me.
Every now and then we sneak in a Casa Uborka Yulefest, in which we stay at home and do things our way. Basically, every three years or so we get to try and reel back the nonsense and find some value in this festival beyond the commercial. It’s really hard to do this with a child, but also seems really quite important. Meanwhile the grandparents do all they can to challenge this.
A few years ago one of the grandmothers gave us a re-useable advent calendar with 24 little drawers. Awesome idea, she really gets how we feel about sustainability, we thought. One year she actually sent 24 little presents to refill the drawers; but most years she sends a chocolate-filled calendar each for me and Pete, and last year a Lego calendar for the boy, which sounds great but created clutter, little bits of foil and plastic all over the floor, and wasn’t opened at all in the last week when the novelty had completely worn off. The other grandmother still manages to find one of those ancient glittery nativity scene calendars with no chocolate or gifts whatsoever.
Not being christians, we don’t call it christmas except as a lazy way of referring to it when talking to other people. But the day itself is Yule, and our own traditions have grown over the last few years. On the years when we’re not here, we don’t put a tree up. We do decorate in the week before we go away, with streamers and lights. One of our neighbours is a tree surgeon and he sells scavenged mistletoe sprigs on his front lawn. On the years we stay at home, the tree itself goes up and is decorated on the 24th, and we put the presents round it after Bernard has gone to bed. We don’t have stockings, we’ve never made any claims about fat red-faced strangers climbing down our non-existent chimney, and I once got told off by Bernard’s nursery teachers because he told the rest of the children that santa was a made-up story. Judging by the levels of hyperactive excitement reached by the morning of the 25th, we really don’t need to ratchet up the magic any further.
If we’re here then we usually have my dad as a guest, and either Pete’s mum or dad, sometimes his sister, this year also my sister and her boyfriend. I like having a motley collection of family, and it’s basically an open house.They all arrive the night before and we get drunk and eat curry together.
Our turkey is traditionally known as Mr Pepperdine, because the first time we did this, Pete’s mum brought one from Lincoln and it arrived wearing this name on a label on its toe. Apparently it’s the name of the shop but we didn’t know that. I enjoy cooking the massive lunch, still mainly using my 1996 copy of BBC Good Food for ideas and instructions. There are always loads of parsnips, which my dad hates and everyone else loves. There is never any plum pudding, because what is the point of that stuff? I do a cranberry and mincemeat filo tart instead. I used to make a cake every year but we usually threw away the last of it in September so I no longer do that.
I am super-efficient with the cooking, so there is plenty of time for opening presents before the lunch is ready. Once again, please feel free to stick to my wishlist. Bernard used to linger over everything, while the grandparents tapped their fingers and tried to chivvy him along. These days he rips off all the wrapping, loses the small parts in the pile of rubbish, and breaks the most expensive thing by bedtime. Dad usually gives him something huge that we don’t really want in the house, and has his own personal tradition of duplicating at least one person’s presents. One year he managed to give all three of us a book we already owned. Again, the wishlist is packed with great ideas.
After lunch I sometimes retire to my room and do a shift on the NCT Breastfeeding Line as a way of chilling out. We don’t get many calls on christmas day, but we’re still there. I let everyone else handle the washing up and the increasingly manic child; preferably they leave the house for a while and it all goes quiet. It gets dark, I light candles, and try to remind everyone it’s all about the daylight at the end of winter’s long dark tunnel. They nod kindly and get the leftovers out to make a cold supper.
The next day we tidy up and laze in front of the television, wondering how to fit all this new stuff into our home. One year I’d love to hire a big house somewhere and do all this with a load of friends.